Summary and book reviews of Blue Sky Kingdom by Bruce Kirkby

Blue Sky Kingdom

An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya

by Bruce Kirkby

Blue Sky Kingdom by Bruce Kirkby X
Blue Sky Kingdom by Bruce Kirkby
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2020, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 8, 2022, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jane McCormack
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About this Book

Book Summary

A warm and unforgettable portrait of a family letting go of the known world to encounter an unfamiliar one filled with rich possibilities and new understandings.

Bruce Kirkby had fallen into a pattern of looking mindlessly at his phone for hours, flipping between emails and social media, ignoring his children and wife and everything alive in his world, when a thought struck him. This wasn't living; this wasn't him. This moment of clarity started a chain reaction which ended with a grand plan: he was going to take his wife and two young sons, jump on a freighter and head for the Himalaya.

In Blue Sky Kingdom, we follow Bruce and his family's remarkable three months journey, where they would end up living amongst the Lamas of Zanskar Valley, a forgotten appendage of the ancient Tibetan empire, and one of the last places on earth where Himalayan Buddhism is still practiced freely in its original setting.

Richly evocative, Blue Sky Kingdom explores the themes of modern distraction and the loss of ancient wisdom coupled with Bruce coming to terms with his elder son's diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum. Despite the natural wonders all around them at times, Bruce's experience will strike a chord with any parent—from rushing to catch a train with the whole family to the wonderment and beauty that comes with experience the world anew with your children.

PROLOGUE

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity ...

—Simone Weil,
Letter to Joë Bousquet,
April 13, 1942

Himachal Pradesh
Northern India


Lumbering trains carried our family westward across the Indian Plains. The terrific heat of summer had descended, and our days dissolved into a mirage of dust, tightly pressed bodies, greasy curry and children's storybooks.

"Way too smelly," our young boys would groan as the tang of perspiration and urine rose in unison with the thermometer.

So we surrendered our seats, choosing instead to stand before open carriage doors, braced together against the wind, watching the country race past: teeming streets, brick factories, rice paddies, water buffalo, egrets on the wing. And late each afternoon, just as the sun's final embers drifted from the sky, I spotted dark clouds gathering on the horizon—looming a little closer each day, as if pursuing us.

But it wasn't until we reached the foothills that the fever broke. We were ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How did you feel about Bruce and Christine's decision to embark on this journey. Did your opinion change as the book progressed.
  2. Bruce questions whether or not is was a good idea to get the reality TV crew involved. What do you think it was like for the family? Was it worth it?
  3. What were some of the key moments that altered Bruce's thinking about Bodi's autism.
  4. Blue Sky Kingdom exposes the development that is happening in the Zanskar Valley--a region that is on the cusp of change. Do you think that this book presents a balanced view of what the development means for the people that live there? Were there any scenes that epitomize the current transformation of the region.
  5. It is clear that Karsha Gompa had a huge impact on Bruce ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Anyone who has heard the siren song of a life cloistered away from the discordant sounds of buzzing smart phones, pinging emails and vibrating text messages will feel envious as the author extols the virtues of "a rare feeling, with nothing calling." However, at times the plot plods along in tandem with the family journey. No doubt Kirkby is attempting to create balance in the telling of his experience by explaining how an archaic toilet (read: hole in the ground that often spits back what is deposited within it) functions or how the "lost boys" — young monks in training — are plagued with snotty noses. But these interruptions remove the reader from more pertinent narrative threads, such as the family's attempt to come to terms with Bodi's autism, or the loss of a sense of community in today's modernized world. The author peppers both Buddhist and Zanskar history throughout his accountings of his family's travels, along with the wisdom of autism advocate Temple Grandin and others, to surmise how his young son Bodi will navigate through life. The book includes rich pictures of the family's adventure, along with sketches of artifacts and symbols surrounding the rituals and culture of the monastery, which facilitate an intimacy with their journey...continued

Full Review Members Only (911 words).

(Reviewed by Jane McCormack).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
As it explores an ancient—and dying—Tibetan Buddhist culture, this delightful book also tells a timely, heartwarming story of a family's search for peace away from the din of modern culture. Soul-refreshing reading for armchair travelers and spiritual questers alike.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Kirkby has an eye for detail, imbuing even the most mundane tasks with meaning. Emotional reflections on the journey, Bodi's 'leaps in development,' and Kirkby's 'newfound ability to... actually meet Bodi where he is,' are juxtaposed with keen observations on the modern world encroaching on Zanskar. It's poignant and gently provocative, much like a prayer flag blowing in the wind.

Library Journal (starred review)
A breathtaking journey, both geographical and internal, Kirkby's blending of travelog of an already fascinatingly remote locale and personal family experience is unique and luminous. Will appeal to a wide range of readers.

Author Blurb Alex Hutchinson, author of Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance
I was blown away by the audaciousness of this epic family voyage, desperately wishing I was there with them. Kirkby's writing offers a vivid exploration of culture, geography and relationships, but also, more urgently, of how we choose to live - and whether that's possible to change.

Author Blurb Kate Harris, author of Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road
Bruce Kirkby's chronicle of living in a remote Buddhist monastery with his family is by turns hilarious and enchanting. What a beautiful ode to impermanence, to the families we choose and the families we find and to the complicated wonders of a different, and fast-disappearing way of life.

Author Blurb John Vaillant, author of The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival
Family adventure doesn't begin to describe what transpires in these pages. Kirkby and his remarkable family have built a bridge between the Rockies and the Himalaya, and in so doing spanned the gap between autism and Buddhism. In addition to being a manifestation of deepest love and devotion, this book is a time-bending journey through a landscape and culture that filled me with envy and sorrow by turns, while showing me things I have never seen described in a lifetime of reading. We are lucky to have someone as brave, generous, and open as Bruce Kirkby abroad in the world.

Reader Reviews

Kathy Fox

So much more than a travelogue
Get ready to be inspired and transported to a buried place in your heart as Canadian writer-adventurer, Bruce Kirkby takes you with him on his family’s quest to flee the constant noise and pressures of society and slow the pace in a Himalayan ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Spirituality and Symbolism of Buddhist Art

In today's world, art therapy has become an increasingly popular option. According to the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), this experiential treatment "is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change." Yet the cathartic qualities of art are ancient. Buddhist monks frequently use art for similar purposes in their rituals.

In Blue Sky Kingdom, Bruce Kirkby describes the painstakingly slow and exacting process of making a mandala — an extraordinarily intricate painting created from colored sand, in this instance to honor ...

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